Security in

Tamar Lebanidze
describes how environment and security concerns can lead to fruitful cooperation, even in one of the world’s most turbulent regions

People associate a whole variety of feelings with the term ‘security’. The very basics – life, food, shelter – sit as if at the bottom of a pyramid, with values like mutual respect and self-esteem at the top. It can be argued that the meaning of security depends a lot on the threats (real or perceived) that confront particular people or societies; in poorer countries, being secure may mean being sure about today’s dinner while elsewhere people could feel extremely vulnerable without proper medical insurance. But what does it mean to be secure in a country like Georgia, in a turbulent region at a turbulent time?

Our country’s Rose Revolution changed the region’s political landscape a year ago, and a new candidate Cabinet of Ministers submitted its programme to the Parliament early in 2004. The programme pays much attention to security issues in general, and to the environment and security in particular. As Georgia’s Minister of Environment Protection and Natural Resources, I share its ordinary citizens’ concerns on many aspects of security. Opinion polls show unsurprising distress about such obvious worries as territorial integrity, unrelieved economic slump, jobs, incomes and corruption. What may seem surprising is a high level of awareness about environment-related risks.

However, closer scrutiny reveals this to be less unusual than might have been thought. Hardly a day goes by when the population does not hear about environmental disasters from around the world. Besides global threats like climate change and ozone layer depletion, there are environmental hazards at home. In Georgia, the word ‘ecological migrants’ has been in use for the last two decades, to describe the thousands of its people forced to resettle in safer places from areas affected by natural disasters – landslides, floods, desertification – aggravated by the damaging impact of uncaring development. Environmental causes lead to the reallocation of already scarce resources – such as land, water and forests – occasionally triggering local conflicts.

Political tensions
Other countries of the Southern Caucasus region are confronted by the same kind of environmental problems. They share the same resources and, logically, there is a sound reason for regional cooperation. However, existing political tensions have already complicated the situation. Environmental and resource-sharing issues may well intensify these tensions and erode security further if no preventive steps are taken. International expertise is needed to assess this non-traditional threat to security, while willingness and mutual trust are the keys to counteracting it.
Environmental causes lead to the reallocation of already scarce resources – such as land, water and forests
Several international projects are addressing regional environmental problems through cooperation with donors (the European Union, Germany, Sweden, the United States) and international organizations. There is solid proof that cooperation is possible on grounds of common interest, and the environment presents a neutral enough field for such cooperation to be successful. Still, challenges of a different scale may come to the fore in the not-so-distant future. Are we prepared?

Fruitful cooperation
The Environment and Security Initiative (ENVSEC) – a joint effort of UNEP, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – has recently prepared a report, Environment and Security: Transforming Risks into Cooperation – The Case of the Southern Caucasus. This was launched at the Meeting of the Environment Ministers from the Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia Region and Their Partners in Tbilisi, in October 2004. The sensitivity of the region makes any such effort the subject of scrupulous scrutiny – and the conclusions of the report are very interesting indeed. It is worth reading the whole document, but its main lesson is simple: regional environment and security concerns can be turned into a field for very fruitful cooperation, possibly laying the ground for improvements in other areas too.

The environment and security both became global issues in the 20th century. Global efforts are needed to respond to modern challenges. As in case of the Southern Caucasus, local and regional efforts should be based on international experience and involvement – because these days, in these issues, everyone is a stakeholder

Tamar Lebanidze is Minister of Environment Protection and Natural Resources, Georgia.

PHOTOGRAPH: TopFoto/ImageWorks

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Waking up | Planting security | Natural peace | People | No procrastinating on climate | Attracting private investment | Reshaping the energy and security debate | At a glance: environmental security | Star profile: Salman Ahmad | How many Earths? | Green helmets | Books and products | Initiative for change | Security in turbulence | Water and war | Beating the ‘resource curse’ | Green peace | It’s poverty, stupid